That headline might appear a bit of stretch but to watch Bill O’Herlihy in action on our television was to know him. His passing yesterday came as a complete shock given that he was out in public the previous night and was his usual jovial and friendly self. Though he had retired from the RTE football panel after the 2014 World Cup last year you could still sense Bill’s presence. He didn’t need to be in front of us because we knew he’d be going about his business in his trademark gentle way. Growing up we had known nothing other than Bill, his panel of elder gentlemen and their rabid freeform discussions on the wonders of the beautiful game. His sudden death means that we have lost a little bit of that joyful innocence that he helped create.
Bill cultivated a persona of the village idiot when it came to football matters despite all the evidence suggesting that he was anything but. Having trained as a journalist for many years with the Cork Examiner and run his own successful PR business this was undoubtedly a clever man. And nobody sits down to a diet of football for over half a century without picking up on a scattering of its subtle nuances. But Bill had worked out a long time ago that to become a foil to Dunphy’s rant, Giles analytics and Brady’s curmudgeonism required him to play the fool, to feign a lack of knowledge to stoke the considerable (f)ires from within his colleagues. He was the one directing the orchestra of loveable miscreants, generating a Mexican wave of conjecture and conflict that offered endless possibilities that we the viewer rarely grew tired of.
Darragh Moloney has done well in filling Bill’s considerable boots but the classic RTE football panel will always have Bill at the helm where the football was often incidental. The memories forged were of a panel containing Johnny Giles, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady on the cusp of all-out mayhem while Bill sat back proudly and witnessed the argumentative stew he had just engineered unfold. For this and much more we’ll miss our pal Bill O’Herlihy. RIP Bill.
- Author: Kevin Dunphy